(Pocket-lint) - Did you know you can use Amazon Alexa to call and message others?

Amazon's Alexa calling and messaging feature is technically called Alexa-to-Alexa calling. It enables you to make and receive calls, as well as send messages between Echo devices, the Amazon Alexa app for iOS and Android, and Fire tablets. It's a neat way to contact family and friends. The best part? The feature is completely free to use, as it works over Wi-Fi on most Echo devices.

Here's everything you need to know about it and how it works.

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What is Alexa calling and messaging?

Technically called Alexa-to-Alexa calling and messaging, the free feature was first introduced on the Amazon Echo Show. But Amazon wanted to extend this functionality to other Echo devices, so it developed what we now call "Alexa calling" or "Alexa calling and messaging". It works with compatible Echo devices and the Alexa for iOS or Android app. It works with Amazon's Fire tablets, as well.

Not only can you place a call using the feature, but you can also leave a voice message or send a text-based message. The best bit about the feature is that it's free to use as it works over Wi-Fi (or mobile data on your phone), so you don't need to invest in a talk plan.

How does Alexa calling work?

You need an Amazon account, a mobile phone number, and the Alexa app on a device running Android 5.0 (or higher), iOS 9.0 (or higher), or on an Android Fire tablet. Everything must be set-up using the Alexa app, as it needs to verify your number and sync your contacts. The feature also works with all current Echo devices, so if you have a Dot or Echo, you can call or message other Echo users and vice versa.

Compatible devices

  • Amazon Echo
  • Amazon Echo Dot
  • Amazon Echo Show
  • Amazon Echo Spot
  • Amazon Echo Plus
  • Other Amazon Echo devices
  • Amazon Alexa app (on Android, iOS or Fire tablet)

Note: Echo Auto, Echo Buds, and Echo Frames use cellular calling as default, rather than Amazon's Alexa calling and messaging feature.

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Types of calls

You can make the following types of calls:

  • Alexa-to-Alexa calling: Make and receive calls between compatible Echo devices (or the Amazon Alexa app, more on that below). You can reach anyone from your mobile phone's contacts list who has a compatible Echo device and who has also signed up for Alexa Calling.
  • Mobile or landline calling: You can call most mobile or landline numbers in the UK, US, Canada, and Mexico from a compatible Echo device, use Alexa to reach supported numbers saved to your mobile phone's contacts list, or, say the number you want to call.
  • Alexa app calling: With the Amazon Alexa app on your Android or iOS smartphone (not available on a tablet), you can make calls to mobile or landline numbers in the US, Canada, and Mexico. This gives you the ability to make and receive calls between anyone from your phone's contacts list who has the Alexa app or a compatible Echo device, and who has also signed up for Alexa Calling and Messaging.
  • International calls: You can make and receive international calls between compatible Echo devices and the Amazon Alexa app. Just make sure the contact you want to reach is in a location that also supports Alexa Calling, has signed up for Alexa Calling and Messaging, and is listed in your contacts list in the Amazon Alexa app.

Note: Alexa does not support calls to emergency service numbers ("911"), premium-rate numbers ("1-900" numbers), three-digit numbers or abbreviated dial codes, international numbers (outside of the US, UK, Canada, and Mexico), and dial-by-letter numbers ("1-800-FLOWERS").

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Sign up for Alexa calling

To get started with Alexa calling, you need to sign up for it:

  1. Open the Amazon Alexa app (on your compatible iOS or Android phone).
  2. Open the Communicate tab from the bottom menu.
  3. Follow the on-screen instructions to enter and verify your phone information.

So, as listed above, download the Amazon Alexa app, then open the app, and select the Communicate icon on the home screen. You need to confirm your name, then enable access to your contacts, and verify your phone number through SMS. Alexa also uses your phone's address book to find people you know who have the Amazon Alexa app with Alexa Calling enabled, so that you can call them that way, too.

To add or edit contacts for Alexa Calling, update your phone's local address book and then open the Amazon Alexa app. Contacts from your address book who also use Alexa Calling will auto-appear in your "Contacts" list in the app, with the same names from your address book.

Place and receive calls using an Echo

To start a call from a compatible Echo device, just ask Alexa to call the person or contact you want to reach by name. You can dial numbers directly as well, by saying each digit (including the area code) of the number you want to call. Just remember Alexa uses voice profiles to determine who is making a call. If you have a voice profile and Alexa is able to recognise your voice, your contacts list is automatically used.

You can call a contact through the Alexa app. Just select the Communicate icon on the home screen, then tap the Contact icon in the upper corner, and tap on a contact. You can then place your call. To call with your Echo, say "Alexa, call [name of contact]." You will need to say their name exactly how it appears in your Alexa app. When you call someone, it will ring their Alexa app and Echo device.

All your incoming calls or messages are also put through to your Alexa app and Echo devices. Your Echo devices will sound an alarm, while your Alexa app will serve up a notification. Just say "Answer" or answer from your phone to accept the call. Alternatively, you can say "Ignore" or ignore it from your phone. When you want to end a call, you can say "Hang up" or tap the end button on your phone.

While a call is active, the lights on your Echo device will glow green.

Here are some Alexa commands you can say:

  • Make a call to another Echo device: "Alexa, call (Corey)".
  • Make a call to a mobile or landline number saved to your contacts: "Alexa, call (John's) mobile" or "Alexa, call (Chris) on his home phone" or "Alexa, call (Brandon) at work" or "Alexa, call (Mom's) office".
  • Dial a mobile or landline number: "Alexa, call [number]."
  • Control call volume: "Alexa, turn the volume up / down."
  • Hang up / end the call: "Alexa, hang up" or "Alexa, end call."
  • Answer the call: Just say, "Answer."
  • Ignore the call: Just say, "Ignore."

Alexa does not currently support inbound calls from mobile or landline phones. However, when a call comes in from an Alexa contact who owns a supported Echo device, the light on all your supported Echo devices will flash green, and Alexa will announce who's calling. If you're using the Amazon Alexa app or a device with a screen, the contact card for the caller shows, with Answer and Ignore options to select.

The lights on your Echo will stay green whenever a call is connected, but if you're already on a call and another call comes in, the new call will be automatically sent to another supported device in your household.

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Place a call using the Alexa app

To call your contacts and supported mobile and landline phone numbers:

  1. Open the Amazon Alexa app on your phone.
  2. Select Communicate from the bottom navigation bar.
  3. Select the Call button at the top.
  4. Select the contact you want to reach and then select their number or Alexa audio call or video call. If you're both using a device with a screen (like Echo Show or Echo Spot), you'll see the option to start a video call.
  5. To end the call, select the End button on-screen.

What else can you do with Alexa calling?

Send a voice message

Voice messages are sort of like voicemails. To send a voice message with the Alexa app, select the Communicate icon. You can pick an existing conversation or tap the Message icon at the top of the Communicate screen. Then tap the blue microphone button at the bottom of the screen to send a new voice message. It will be sent to your friend's Alexa app and Echo device.

To send a voice message with an Echo device, say "Alexa, send [name of contact] a message". To access your voice messages, go to the Communicate screen of the Alexa app or say to your Echo, "Alexa, play my messages."

Send a text messages

To send a text message with the Alexa app it's basically the same procedure as above. Select the Communicate icon, then pick an existing conversation or tap the Messages icon at the top. You'll then see a screen where you can send a new text message. Your text will be pushed to your friend's Alexa app or Echo device, and they will get a notification, too.

Enable Do not disturb

If you want to block Alexa from alerting you about calls and messages, turn on Do Not Disturb. Say, "Alexa, don't disturb me." You can also schedule Do Not Disturb in the Alexa app (Settings > All devices > Select your device > Do Not Disturb > Scheduled).

Drop In on a contact

Drop In is a feature that can be used with Echo Show or Echo Spot. Amazon says that, in most cases you'll probably prefer to use video calling, but Drop In is also available so you can easily check in with an elderly relative or check a camera in the nursery. You won't need to call someone else, but can simply access the camera on another Echo Show device.

You can pick and choose which Echo devices Drop In is available on, and you can choose which contacts can have the privileges to Drop In on it. If you want, you can opt to not allow anyone to, or restrict it to your household, for example. To learn how to set up and use Drop In, go here.

Make an announcement

With Alexa Announcements, you can ask Alexa to make announcements on all compatible Echo devices in your household. Think of it as a one-way intercom. People nearby an Echo in your household will hear a short chime to indicate there is an incoming announcement, and then the announcement will play in the voice of whoever is making the announcement. Cool, right?

To create an Alexa Announcement, simply say "Alexa, announce", and then say your announcement aloud. You can also say "Alexa, broadcast", and again, tack on your voice message at the end. So, for instance, you can say, "Alexa, broadcast 'the movie is starting.'" Everyone in your home within earshot of an Echo device will hear a chime followed by you saying, "the movie is starting."

From the Alexa app on your phone, you can also go to Communicate from the bottom navigation bar, and then select the Announcements button at the top to initiate a broadcast. You'll be given the option to type or speak your announcement aloud, and it'll instantly play on your devices. 

Can you call landline numbers?

Yes. You can use Alexa calling to phone landline numbers, provided they're connected to an Amazon Echo Connect accessory hub, or you can call anyone in your phone's contacts list for free if they also have the Alexa app installed on their smartphone or tablet.

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How does Echo Connect calling work?

You can use Amazon's Echo Connect accessory with a supported Echo device to make and receive phone calls through your home phone service. Amazon doesn't charge you to place or receive a call with Echo Connect, though you will still need to buy a home phone landline or VoIP package from your local telecom provider. Here's how the accessory works and what you need for it to function.

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What you need

If you want to use the Echo Connect to make and receive calls through your own home phone service, you need three things: A phone landline or VoIP, a compatible Echo device (such as the Echo, Echo Plus, Echo Dot, Echo Spot, or Echo Show), and the Amazon Alexa app on your mobile device. This lets Alexa stay in sync with your phone's address book, so it can call people and announce who is calling).

You must connect Echo Connect to your phone line and then sync your contacts to the Amazon Alexa app on your phone. You'll also need to use the Amazon Alexa app to discover and set up your Echo Connect to your compatible Echo device so that you'll be able to simply ask Alexa (via your Echo device) to call a contact or a number using your home phone service. Easy peasy.

  1. Open the Amazon Alexa app and sign up for Alexa Calling and Messaging.
  2. Turn on Echo Connect. First, plug the included power adapter into Echo Connect and then into a power outlet. The power LED light on the top will be solid when it has power.
  3. Connect Echo Connect to a phone jack. You need to plug one end of the included telephone cable into the back of the Echo Connect, and then plug the other end of the cable into a standard telephone jack (for landline phone service), or a Wi-Fi router (for digital phone service), or a analogue telephone adapter (for VoIP phone service)
  4. If you want to share a phone jack between Echo Connect and a handset, use the included splitter. You can plug the splitter into your Echo Connect. One port of the splitter will connect to a phone jack (on the wall, VoIP adapter, or the router), and the remaining port will connect to your home phone.
  5. Complete Wi-Fi setup in the Amazon Alexa app.

Make and receive calls with Echo Connect

With Echo Connect and a compatible Echo device, you can ask Alexa to call anyone using your phone landline at home. Echo Connect routes call through your number, either landline or VoIP, so that friends and family recognise who is calling on their caller ID. Again, the contacts on your phone will stay in sync with Alexa, so you'll never have to look up a number stored on your phone's address book.

As long as you're using the Amazon Alexa app, Alexa will remember your contacts. Also, you can not only place calls through Echo Connect but receive them on your Echo device. When you receive a call to your home phone service from someone in your contact list, your home phone will ring, Alexa will announce who is calling, the light ring on your Echo device will turn green, and a ringtone will sound.

Here are some Alexa commands you can say:
  • Make call: "Alexa, call [contact name]."
  • Place call a contact's specific phone type (such as home, cell, and work): "Alexa, call John's cell phone."
  • Call a phone number: "Alexa, call [number]."
  • Call 911 in the US: "Alexa, call 911."
  • Answer the call: Just say, "Answer" or "Answer the phone".
  • Ignore the call: Just say, "Ignore.”
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Want to know more?

Check out some of Pocket-lint's other handy Alexa guides:

Writing by Maggie Tillman.